A lot has changed in China in the 14 years since it outlawed Falun Gong, the mix of meditation, movement and philosophy that's drawn people from around the world.
Economic freedom has seen living standards rise while the ban on Falun Gong has kept many people down and left some dead, say organizers of a candlelight vigil at The Forks this weekend.
"We don't see there is any sign of a stop to the persecution," said Maria Cheung, a Falun Gong practitioner and one of the organizers of Saturday night's ceremony. She said it's being held to remember those sent to forced-labour camps, who've had their organs forcibly harvested and died in China during the last 14 years because of their beliefs. In 1999, as Falun Gong was gaining in popularity in China, the central government outlawed and vilified it.
Saturday's vigil is to remember those who've suffered and to raise public awareness, said the Winnipeg university professor.
Media attention is helping to draw awareness to the cause, she said.
The vigil begins at 7 p.m.
It will be accompanied by Chinese flute player Xiaonan Wang. The Chinese immigrant, who had his own struggle with Chinese authority, has performed with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and in Guy Maddin's film The Saddest Music in the World. He was branded a counter-revolutionary while studying at the Chinese Conservatory of Music during the Cultural Revolution and sent to work in a forced labour camp. He immigrated to Canada in 1995.
Human rights lawyer David Matas has spoken out against the persecution of Falun Gong supporters, the forced harvesting of their organs and has co-authored a book on the subject, Bloody Harvest.
Two years ago, the subject made headlines when Cheung demonstrated downtown outside Bodies ... The Exhibition over concerns the cadavers on display had been Chinese political prisoners, including Falun Gong members.
At that time, only about 20 per cent of the people Cheung approached on the street were aware of the situation in China, she said.
This past Canada Day, Falun Gong supporters converged on crowded corners of Winnipeg with petitions calling for an end to forced organ harvesting in China. Close to half the people they approached knew about the persecution of Falun Gong supporters and forced organ donation in China, said Cheung. An international group of doctors started the petition asking the United Nations to fully investigate the issue and "stop the evil practice." A few hundred people signed the petition on Canada Day -- nearly 50 per cent of whom didn't need an explanation of what they were being asked to sign, said Cheung.
"I would see it as a positive sign," she said.
The number of organ transplants reported in China has dropped after international concerns about forced organ harvesting were raised, she said.
"Some people are saying 'What can we do? Why bother?' But I would say it's not totally hopeless. There is something you can do."